President Obama's first 50 days in office ended with doubled-barreled shotgun blasts from conservatives, who accused him of not only reneging on his pledge to be bipartisan, but - horror of horrors - taking the United States down the primrose path to socialism.
Ooooh, scary stuff. Of course, neither charge is true.
First of all, any nation that provides Medicaid, food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and a host of other equally valuable programs that redistribute tax dollars has already walked more than a few steps down the lane to socialism. Whether it's called that or not.
As for being bipartisan, what else but bipartisan would you call a president who has drawn the ire of many in his own party for pushing an Iraq withdrawal plan that's not much different from his Republican predecessor's and an education plan that has cringing teachers unions buying bottles of aspirin?
Obama left some Democrats speechless when he said he would keep up to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of a 19-month drawdown period. "This is unacceptable," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.), cofounder of the Out of Iraq House Caucus. But Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said, "We are finally on a path to success."
After talking with his generals, Obama took what he believes is the most prudent course. He could be wrong, but it won't be because he refused to hear opposing viewpoints. On the contrary, he altered his pre-election position on Iraq because he did hear them.
Obama's education speech Tuesday was not a similar change in direction; it reinforced positions found in his education platform during the election. But, again, what he said pleased many Republicans.
The president said he wanted to increase the number of charter schools and the amount of federal support for them. He also said he wanted to give merit pay to good teachers, an idea that teachers unions, part of the traditional Democratic fold, have long resisted.
How's that for reaching across the aisle? "The president deserves credit for his willingness to take on the education establishment, something too few in his party have been willing to do," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.
There is no basis for the charges of conservative speilmeisters that Obama wants to make America any more socialist than it already is, or that he has broken his campaign promise to be bipartisan. That Obama got only three Republican votes in the Senate on his stimulus package wasn't because he didn't try.
In fact, when one considers Obama's positions on education and Iraq, it appears that he is heeding the advice of well-wishers who say he must be "post-partisan" to succeed. "Post-partisan solutions transcend partisan orthodoxy. They put the national interest above party interests," said Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council.
If only others would take a post-partisan approach. In particular, the celebrity conservatives who are so hot to fight Obama that they take umbrage with anything he proposes.
John Derbyshire, writing for the American Conservative, says the right wing has been hijacked by the "low-brow conservatism" of celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, and Mike Levin, who "by yoking themselves to the clueless George W. Bush and his free-spending administration . . . helped create the great debt bubble that has now burst so spectacularly."
Derbyshire says there's nothing wrong with their "Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar . . . it appeals to millions of Americans. McDonald's profits rose 80 percent last year." But if conservatism is to have a future in America, it will need to listen to more than "the looped tape of lowbrow talk radio."
That's a message the Republican Party must hear. In its desperation to blunt the success of the Democratic president, it must be careful not to be carried into oblivion by talk-show hosts and others who prefer name-calling to doing the hard work of cultivating voters with sound policies that people can support.